Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 23

In the twenty-third and final chapter of The Fifth Season, there is no way I could have ever guessed the end of this book. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For body horror, grief, death of a child

What the fuck, y’all. 

The Fifth Season was the journey of a woman fractured into pieces, first by force, and then by grief, and then by choice. There’s a line in this final chapter that helps solidify this reading:

Rust it, you’ll be glad when you finally figure out who you really are.

Because this book was never about that answer. To the reader, sure. I think I can’t avoid that fact, given that it took me until it was spelled out to see what the structure of The Fifth Season really was. But that’s not who Essun really is, is it? This isn’t a cliffhanger so much as a preamble. We needed to see the pieces of Essun: her time as a child orogene, her indoctrination in the Fulcrum, her time in servitude, and then… a glimpse of freedom. A very fucked up freedom, mind you, that had a tragic end, one rooted in the very issues she was dealing with when she was a child. So this isn’t a cliffhanger so much as a cycle.

One that Alabaster has begun to break. 

It’s not lost on me that the character who repeatedly told Syenite not to change the world is the one who may have changed it the most. But it’s been twelve years since then, and what happened in those twelve years? There are only small, horrifying, and violent clues to that. But my guess is that once Antimony took Alabaster beneath the Earth, the stone eaters used him for their own purposes. Were they disappointed in his ability to control an obelisk? Had he been punished or tortured because of that? Or is there something else going on here, something I can’t possibly understand? (Yet, that is.) I don’t get how his body is turning to stone, and I assume the stone eaters did that to him. But why? Is this related to that bizarre thing Hoa said about stone being an efficient storage device? Are they eating Alabaster for some fucked up reason? Because they don’t see humans as much more than a means to an end, do they? 

What’s their endgame, though? What does it have to do with Alabaster, with obelisks, with Essun? 

There’s just… there’s so much grief and trauma between Alabaster and Essun, y’all. Jemisin creates these sentences that are so brutal and heavy, and both of them—reunited after twelve years apart—trade sentiments that speak volumes about what they’ve been through. Essun speaks of a complicated freedom. Alabaster offers empathy without forgiveness. There’s so much left unsaid, but does it really need to be said out loud? And at this moment, when it’s clear that Alabaster probably doesn’t even have that much time left in his life?

No, what’s important to Alabaster is Essun, her ability, her potential. Has she been able to use the obelisks at will in the twelve years since they parted? Has she fine-tuned an ability that wasn’t even something she could conceive of all those years ago? 

Because ALABASTER HAS. He made an obelisk his AND TURNED IT INTO A SWORD. And that isn’t even the biggest deal, y’all, because that epiphany morphs into a bigger one:

Alabaster and Antimony were the man and woman in Yumenes who broke the earth.

I wonder, then, if Alabaster’s current state is the price he paid. Was turning to stone part of what would happen if he utilized the obelisks to tear apart that rift? To free the node maintainers from their suffering? Is this who he’ll slowly become now? It seems that for him, the price was worth it. Because he isn’t here to ask Essun to fix everything, to repair what he has done. Nope.

“It was all collateral damage, but Yumenes got what it deserved. No, what I want you to do, my Damaya, my Syenite, my Essun, is make it worse.”



Because this is the end of the world, right? Both figuratively and literally. Oh shit, that conversation in the prologue. Antimony said the stone eaters had no desire to rise up out of the earth and take over once the world ended. So… what is this for? Has Alabaster finally come around and decided that there is no paradise, no happiness within a world that so horribly treats its orogenes? Did he realize that Meov, while pleasant, solved nothing? Or has he done this because he has nothing to lose anymore? He just spent twelve years without Essun, Coru, or Innon, and I don’t imagine the stone eaters treated him all that well, either. 

But then, the book ends, with a sentence so completely out of right field, so utterly ridiculous in its potential, that I had to accept that The Fifth Season was an introduction. There is more to come. There is more absurdity around the corner. Because this is the last thing:

“Tell me,” he says, “have you ever heard of something called a moon?” 

A moon.


Because the Stillness is a world of people who only look to the sky to glance at the obelisks and occasionally at stars. This is what this book told us long ago. No one thought to look up and identify a giant rock floating in the sky. Had anyone ever seen it? Did the people of the Stillness ignore it? 

And what is Alabaster hinting at here? Is he suggesting that orogenes use lunar rock, or is he suggesting a new home? 

I don’t know. I genuinely don’t. But holy shit, what a bold fucking way to end a book. Jemisin has torn open this world and introduced a new concept AT THE END OF A BOOK. I can’t even imagine what it was like reading this when it came out, seeing that last sentence, and then having to wait a YEAR to find out what came next. Thankfully, I only have to wait a week! We’ll start The Obelisk Gate on Monday, and predictions for that book will be attached to the beginning of the review. I used to do them separately as a sort of buffer post when I was doing five reviews a week, so there’s no need for that here. 

I just… wow. Y’all. What a tremendous achievement. A stunning, epic, and radical novel, and THERE ARE TWO MORE!!!! I’m so excited! Thank you for joining me on this journey with this book, and I hope you’ll stick around. Again, I was very nervous about doing text-only reviews without a video, so I’m extra appreciative of all the kind words and comments as I’ve gone back to the old style of reviewing. 

Seriously. Thank you.


  • I’m gonna be so emotional over this damn reunion
  • Oh fuck, it’s Antimony
  • “You can be polite to anybody, no matter how much you hate them.” HELP ME
  • I’m crying, this is too much
  • what the fuck!!!! 
  • WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN? tooth marks???
  • whoops, crying again
  • hi, what is that weapon??? what is it???? wait… IS it a weapon?
  • the node maintainers oh my god
  • make it WORSE?????????
  • OH
  • the sheer fucking POSSIBILITIES of this???????????
  • are we going to SPACE next??????????
  • oh my god. the end. I made it to the end and it ruined me

Mark Links Stuff

You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
– Not only that, but my very first pre-order campaign is now live for North American readers! If you submit proof of pre-order, you can get a limited edition print that comes with the book.
– If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in The Broken Earth, The Fifth Season and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.